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China-MENA Podcast December 21, 2023

Performative or Substantive Engagement? China & Russia in the Middle East

By Atlantic Council


Key takeaways

  • Chinese-Russian Collaboration in the Middle East
  • China’s Activities and Interests in the Middle East
  • Perceptions of Great Power Competition and Influence in the Middle East


00:00 – Introduction

03:13 – Russian Weaponry and Reactor Sales: Driving Middle East Cooperation

10:01 – Amplifying Influence through Media Collaboration: The Force Multiplier

13:42 – Middle East’s Perspective: Russia as Muscle, China as Financial Power

16:07 – Russia’s Challenges as a Weapon Supplier: The Impact of Ukraine

19:06 – Changing Power Dynamics: China’s Role in the Gaza Conflict

23:24 – China’s Benefits from Russia’s Non-Compliance with OPEC

28:14 – Prospects for Saudi Nuclear Energy Cooperation: A Realistic Outlook

30:08 – Middle Easterners’ Support for Russian Influence in 2015

32:32 – US Concerns and Attention-Seeking in Response to Russia’s Actions

38:48 – Acting with Diplomatic Considerations: Weighing Repercussions

42:08 – Inevitable Cooperation: China, Russia, and the Middle East

44:26 – Exploring Cooperation: Russia, Ukraine, West, and the Middle East

46:23 – Outro

In this episode

Mark Katz
Nonresident Senior Fellow, Middle East Programs
Atlantic Council.

Dr. Mark N. Katz is a nonresident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Middle East Programs. Katz is also a professor of government and politics at the George Mason University Schar School of Policy and Government.

Li-Chen Sim
Assistant Professor
Khalifa University

Dr. Li-Chen Sim is a specialist in the political economy of Russian and Gulf energy (oil, gas, renewables, nuclear) and its intersection with international relations. Her research includes area studies such as Gulf-Asia relations and Russia-Middle East relations as well as the impact of energy on state-society patterns of interaction.


In this episode of the China-MENA Podcast titled “Performative or Substantive Engagement? China & Russia in the Middle East,” our host Jonathan Fulton, and guests Li-Chen Sim and Mark Katz explore the growing collaboration between China and Russia and its impact on the Middle East, including the amplification of influence through media collaboration as a force multiplier. We unravel the complexities of Sino-Russian engagement in the region, discussing Russia’s interests, China’s role, the Ukraine war’s influence, and the Middle East perspective: Russia as a muscle and weapon supplier versus China as a financial power. 

Join us as we unravel the complexities of this relationship and analyze its impact on regional dynamics.

Hosted by

There is room for negotiation and cooperation between the US and China, transcending any cold war-like conflict

Mark Katz

Together, as a force multiplier, they amplify their interests and narratives in the Middle East, projecting greater collective power and influence

Li-Chen Sim

Learn more


Mar 16, 2022

Great power projection in the Middle East: The China-Russia relationship as a force multiplier

By Jonathan Fulton and Li-Chen Sim

The conflict is also likely to provide states in the MENA region, especially oil producing states, with greater leverage over the US and Western allies. The US designation of Qatar as a major non-NATO ally in January 2022 could be seen from this perspective

China Economy & Business

About the China-MENA podcast

The China-MENA podcast features conversations with academics, think-tankers, and regional specialists on Chinese Influence in the Middle East and informs US and MENA audiences in the policy and business communities about the nature of China’s outreach to the region.

At a time when China’s global footprint is getting deeper and deeper, it has never been more important to understand its foreign policy and the Middle East is one of the world’s most consequential regions: home to major religions, diverse cultural and social heritage, central to global energy markets, and of course, geopolitics, linking people and markets in Asia, Africa and Europe.  This show will help you understand what China is doing in the region, and how the region is engaging with China as an increasingly important external power.

Podcast series

Listen to the latest episode of the China-MENA podcast, featuring conversations with academics, government leaders, and the policy community on China’s role in the Middle East.

Recommended reading

This podcast was funded in part by a grant from the United States Department of State. The opinions, findings, and conclusions stated herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Department of State.

Further reading

Related Experts: Jonathan Fulton

Image: Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping attend a reception at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia March 21, 2023. Sputnik/Pavel Byrkin/Kremlin via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.